For an industry captain who has been following the two “jewels in the British crown”, right from the unveiling of the original Jaguar XJ6 in London as a fledgling motoring journalist to driving one of the first production Range Rovers across Europe a couple of years later, it was only befitting for him to be chronicling the rise, fall and subsequent rebirth of JLR in the Tata stable.
In undertaking the eventful journey, the former editor-in-chief of Autocar magazine passes through several milestones in the brief histories of the two brands and how they developed; from being brought together in the 1960s in what became British Leyland, to going their separate ways to be reunited as part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group in 2000.
Ford’s changing circumstances, and personnel, are described in some detail to explain the lead-up to and conduct of the sale. And the background to Tata shows how it emerged as the proud and ambitious owner of the two famous brands.
When Ratan Tata, then chairman of the Mumbai-based conglomerate and a car buff himself, was asked to comment on the soon-to-be-inked takeover of the beleaguered marques, at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2008, he had left no doubt about his company’s ambition: “... Jaguar and Land Rover are iconic brands that we respect enormously. These companies were for sale. We were invited to bid and were pleased to be considered. We were not on the prowl to acquire another car company. This is a great opportunity...”
However, several questions arose: If Ford, one of the world’s biggest motor manufacturers, can’t make money from Jaguar and Land Rover, how will Tata succeed?
In the years to come, Tata would prove all its detractors wrong. It went on to become one of the most profitable car manufacturers in the world, and one of the most successful in terms of return on revenue, besides making the largest investment in the UK motoring industry in the 21st century. The reasons behind the success story, notes Hutton, were the negotiation of a good purchase price, a commitment of the right investment, and application of good management. Hutton quotes Lord Bhattacharyya of Warwick University as saying: “There was no shortage of capable engineers at Jaguar and Land Rover. What was needed was capital, vision and leadership.” The Tatas had them in plenty.
Apart from being a history handbook for automobile enthusiasts, Jewels in the Crown is an allegory of the motor business over half a century; the decline of the British motor industry and the loss of the private companies operating within it; consolidation and foreign ownership; difficulties for mass-producers and the rise of premium brands; and the centre of gravity of sales shifting to Asia, predominantly China.
Tata drove back the numbers and the lost glory of Jaguar Land Rover, now the fastest-growing premium car company in the world. It never showed any doubts, even during the worst of the financial crisis, and was able to lift JLR to its current heights partly through better management, serious investments in new models like its best-selling luxury SUV, Range Rover Evoque, and sheer ambition. For Tata Motors and the motoring world, JLR is likely to remain a driving force for now.